Instrumentation Connectivity Breeds Better Business

“Doing nothing is a strategy for going out of business,” insists Ron Helson, executive director of Austin, Texas-based Hart Communication Foundation (HCF, www.hartcomm.org).

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While that notion seems obvious, end-users who don’t understand—who don’t strive to maximize process control, squeeze the most useable data from instrumentation and then transmit it in real- or near-real-time to decision-makers—may learn first-hand the consequence of the do-nothing strategy.
 
To help avert end-users’ agony and keep them in business, HCF, Germany-based Profibus Nutzerorganisation, several global automation vendors and Austin, Texas-based Fieldbus Foundation (Foundation, www.fieldbus.org) collaborate on the FDI Team Project  (for field device integration). It seeks “to standardize how [device displays] look to end-users and also a technology—EDDL (electronic device description language),” notes John Berra, Foundation chairman and chairman of controls vendor Emerson Process Management (www.emersonprocess.com), in Austin. “Alarms are separated and sent to whoever needs to see them.”

What will this project’s product mean for end-users? Harmonization of legacy communication protocols across the Hart protocol; Profibus-PA for process automation; and the Foundation Fieldbus technology. “We’re close to finishing the FDI work. I’m hopeful that it’s out by the summer of 2010,” Berra notes.
 
Concurrently with that work, the Foundation is expanding wireless capabilities for end-users. “We have a collaborative agreement where we’re specifying a wireless gateway,” Berra states. But he emphasizes: “We are not making a wireless Foundation Fieldbus.”

Why highlight that? Is it because of unpleasant memories of the bus wars that led to the eight-headed International Electrotechnical Commission’s standard 61158 for fieldbus technologies? Maybe. Berra stresses that the Foundation is not entering the wireless arena because “we have a wireless ‘war’ going on now, much like years ago.” Automation-vendor rivals align themselves with either WirelessHart, HCF’s open-standard networking technology, or the International Society of Automation’s (ISA, www.isa.org) standard ISA 100.11a – Wireless Systems for Industrial Automation: Process Control and Related Applications.
 
Any and all

Regardless of who struggles, why and for how long, “input to the Foundation’s gateway can be WirelessHart, ISA 100.11a  or whatever else comes along. But wired can come in, too,” Berra notes. Out of the back of the gateway comes the Foundation’s high-speed Ethernet. “Our goal is to provide means to aggregate information and then present it to the control system with which the system is familiar.”

HCF counts on system familiarity, especially now with wireless.  “WirelessHart is a complementary enhancement to the Hart Communication Protocol,” Helson states.  The wireless protocol enables access to diagnostics and intelligent features of existing Hart devices for asset management and operational improvement, he explains.

Helson observes a shift in how manufacturing views HCF’s protocol. “The old thinking that Hart is just a device-configuration-and-maintenance protocol is out.” The new thinking, he contends, is that “Hart is a rich, full-time communications protocol for real-time access to digital process parameters, diagnostics and other advanced features of intelligent measurement-and-control field devices and process-automation systems.”
 
And even though the Hart protocol remains stable, “there are some minor enhancements in the works,” Helson notes. “Those include Hart over IP [Internet Protocol], optional infrared non-contact physical layer and guidance for discrete device applications—but nothing major.” HCF will continue to improve the Hart technology, he says, “but no major changes are planned or anticipated for many years.”

In spite of the Hart protocol’s stability, though, industry continues “to be struggling with how and why it should move forward to fully integrate the intelligent capabilities of Hart devices with process-automation systems,” Helson remarks. Nonetheless, “most automation suppliers” actively work to incorporate the Hart 7 specification, released in October 2007 “into their field instrumentation and automation system products.” That’s a stay-in-business strategy.

C. Kenna Amos, ckamosjr@earthlink.net, is an Automation World Contributing Editor.

Hart Communication Foundation, HCF
www.hartcomm.org

Fieldbus Foundation
www.fieldbus.org

Emerson Process Management
www.emersonprocess.com

International Society of Automation, ISA
www.isa.org

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